Blog: Managing from the Future: Preparing for the future
It is clear that AI is bringing about a complete transformation of our lives in all its aspects. The AI’s dazzling speed tends to destabilize us and to see a bleak future ahead, especially since the prophets of doom are outbidding on this subject: basically, robots will replace us everywhere — this is already the case in some European countries where supermarkets have replaced human cashiers with robots cashiers — and we won’t know what to do with ourselves. Worse, the robots will exterminate us, which is Ray Kurzweil’s favourite scenario called the Singularity.
According to neurobiologists, after a certain density of information and interconnections in the human brain, reflective thought arises: the brain knows that it knows. (Is that when language came up?).
It seems that the same scenario would apply to our AI-powered cyber-machines, as by the density of information that we humans are generating, we are creating a living cyber-organism that will, at some point, realize that it exists. Habeo data, ergo sum. Therefore, we are setting our own trap, according to Fr. de Closets, because we are currently building a future world that we are unable to conceive nor control. But, according to de Closets, we are condemned to progress, thus to the future; and these two are closely linked, as the future is shaped by progress.
With this threatening situation for human mankind, proposals to manage our future are well underway. Some, such as techno-guru Ray Kurzweil, propose transhumanism for a better future for human beings: it is a radical movement proposing to use the advances of artificial intelligence, biology and nano- and bio-technologies to abolish old-age, diseases and death and to promise the emergence of a new humanity. Others, such as Dr Eric Topel for medicine, advocate a synergy between man and machine in a convergence of both human and artificial intelligences that would improve the situation as a whole.
Joël de Rosnay, a scientist and futurist, had already predicted the current technological revolutions in his essay Le Macroscope published in 1975. In 1995, in his book L’Homme Symbiotique (Seuil, Paris), he announced a scenario of man-machine hybridization or symbiosis — a prefiguration of the current enhanced human — and named it the Cybionte (a French neologism formed with the terms cybernetics and biology), a metaphorical super-planetary organism that he conceptualized. This new form of collective life is a hybrid, biological, mechanical and cybernetic macro-organism, linking people, computers and intelligent agents via a global computer network. The Cybionte represents both a form of collective intelligence and an ecosystem.
Nowadays, with the rise of AI, de Rosnay advocates what he calls hyperhumanism — more humanity in an increasingly technologized world — without panicking and by “merging” ourselves with AI and its avatars.
Thus, in his book entitled Je cherche à comprendre: Les codes cachés de la nature, he predicts the emergence of an enhanced collective intelligence that will generate hyperhumanism which, unlike the elitist, selfish and narcissistic transhumanism addressing the individual and his dream of immortality, speaks to society and can lead to a better organized, respectful community, capable of creating a new humanity. (This is close to what the anarchist movement is proposing for a better society).
De Rosnay goes even further in his latest book La symphonie du vivant (LLL, 2019): he proposes to apply the principles of epigenetics to contemporary society and has named it epimemetics. Hereunder are some explanations (translated excerpts from his above-mentioned essay):
Epigenetics shows that our behaviours influence the expression of our genes. It includes properties that form a genetic metaprogram that each of us has inherited. Thanks to our behaviour — diet, lifestyle, etc. — we can amplify or inhibit certain genes. According to de Rosnay, we can thus act on the societal DNA by modifying our behaviour, this societal DNA being composed of the digital-informational ecosystem, in which the Internet is integrated, and which would be made more complex by the individual and massive interventions of Internet users.
Thus, based on the genetic/memetic principle, he proposes to establish the epigenetic/epimemetic relationship: I define epimemetics as all the modifications of the expression of societal DNA’s memes made by the behaviour of individuals in a society, company or any form of human organization.
(Note: It should be recalled that the meme is an element of culture that can be considered as transmitted by non-genetic means, in particular by imitation. The term is an invention of Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene).
Apart from the scenarios proposed by the above-mentioned scientists, I propose a scenario called Managing from the Future, which consists in establishing a compelling goal that draws organizations out of their comfort zone by standing in the new future and undertaking of series of step, not in order to get there some day, but as if you were there already. The task, therefore, involves removing whatever obstacles remain in the way to reach that future fully. This discipline begins with this mental shift. It whets organization’s appetite for disequilibrium and provides the compelling goal that draws organizations toward the edge of chaos, a state of complex systems characterized by the opposition between conditions that favour entropy (disordered state) and neg-entropy (increased order). It is a transition space in a constant interaction between order and disorder that creates paradoxically a dynamic equilibrium. It’s a destabilization condition that is a source of creativity, innovation and adaptability. Managing from the Future is a business method that appeared in the early 2000s, but unfortunately, it does not seem to have flourished. (R. Pascale, M. Millemann, and L. Gioja, Surfing the Edge of Chaos: How the Smartest Companies Use the New Science to Stay Ahead, Crown Business, December 2001).
Managing from the future can effectively change our vision of the world. We come to believe that we are part of a broader context that has revolutionary potential. The vision of the future — the attractor in terms of complexity sciences — acts like a magnetic or gravitational field, drawing many small day-to-day contributions of collective intelligence into a constellation of concerted actions. “Being it now” causes belief in the future to fuel daily activity. A good way to achieve this is through the method of back-casting. It’s is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect that specified future to the present (Wikipedia). It is about establishing the description of a very precise and very specific situation in the future, then making an imaginary return in time in as many necessary steps from the future to the present to reveal the mechanism by which this particular future could be achieved from the present.
The bar must be set high enough — this is the constraint — because the sought goal, which must be concrete, tangible, attractive, audacious and worthwhile, must not be easily achieved without extraordinary effort, but worth a try. This attraction towards a specific future derives its power from feelings, passions and aspirations and these factors combine to alter how the present occurs. Managing from the future helps us to discover that which is latent within us and which seeks fuller expression.
In view of the above, it is up to us to choose what kind of future we want, and then work to achieve it by remaining awake, enlightened and effective.